Pacific Crucible

PacificCrucibleSuggested by Brad Nelson • On the first Sunday in December 1941, Japanese warplanes appeared over Pearl Harbor and devastated the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Six months later, in a sea fight north of Midway, four Japanese carriers were sunk. Pacific Crucible tells the epic tale of these first months of the Pacific war.
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101 Responses to Pacific Crucible

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I read most of the generous Kindle sample of this last night. If most books were like this, you could get by reading only the Kindle free samples. There is much history packed into the free part.

    I didn’t know that Teddy Roosevelt was such a Japanophile, for instance, or that despite this he was perhaps the first prominent figure to warn of the almost certainty that Japan would eventually strike strongly, boldly, and in a lightning fashion. He was about 30 years ahead of his time.

    I also didn’t know that the world’s navies at that time were infatuated with The Mahan Doctrine which derived from Alfred Thayer Mahan’s groundbreaking book, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History. The doctrine was comprised of the idea that big battleships and heavily concentrated forces striking massive blows was the way to go — a doctrine that was already seriously eroded in the aftermath of WWI where it was clear (to some) that submarines, airplanes, and ships that could launch airplanes would invalidate parts of that doctrine, particularly reliance on battleships.

    We bitch and moans here at StubbornThings because your average person can’t see where all these current bad ideas are leading. There seems an inability by most people to think even marginally strategically. But entire countries and command structures can have the same problem as was seen at Pearl Harbor. Anyone with the barest knowledge of Japan, her ambitions, and her navy would have spent at least a few thousand gallons more of fuel to patrol the approaches to Pearl Harbor and to take measures in Pearl Harbor against such an attack (such as not lining up your Battleships all in a neat row).

    But we see this kind of blindness even today, especially in Europe regarding Muslims. There is a slow-motion Pearl Harbor occurring there.

    And it’s interesting reading that even while the attack of Pearl Harbor was commencing, many people thought it was just another naval exercise. We can deny the Pope is a Marxist, that Europe is in trouble, that America is in danger of being demographically swamped by third-world illegal aliens, that our debt and spending is a bomb that won’t go off. The propensity of mankind is to believe that everything is fine until it is not…and even then it takes a while to take in the reality that it is not.

    What eventually saved America wasn’t her military might and industrial power, per se, although they were a necessary feature. It was her willingness to fight, to call an enemy a “Jap” instead of just a misunderstood victim. Today we tend to apologize for those who invade our borders or murder our people, wondering what it was we did wrong to provoke this. We are all soft and blubbery, easy targets for enemies without and (as with Obama and his ilk) from within.

    Also, this book notes in broad outline the amazing rise of Japan — in apparently only one generation — from an agrarian society to one that could kick Russia’s ass in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 where Japan exerted itself as a new and serious player on the world scene — and planted the roots firmly of a blind racial zealousness that would lead to its destruction at the end of WWII (but, we must say, probably would not have except for the existence of the United States).

    And thanks to Mr. Kung, our resident historian, for continuing to…err…Kindle our interest in history.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      Alfred Thayer Mahan’s groundbreaking book, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History.

      Yes the book had a tremendous influence on naval policy around the world. It was particularly important during the period after the War Between the States and WWI. I believe the Dreadnought battleship was a logical product of the philosophy.

      As to Japan, you have hit upon a subject near my heart. From about 1610 until Commodore Perry anchored in Tokyo Bay in 1853, Japan was a closed country. The only port open to foreigners was Nagasaki.

      After Perry’s visit things began to change radically in Japan. And during the so-called “Meiji-Restoration” Japan’s transition from a agricultural to industrial society was made within a little more than one generation and until China’s recent change, was the most impressive such transition in history.

      The problem with Japan at the time was that Japan was forced open to the rest of the world and the elites of the country felt the humiliation of this. The Japanese had always thought of themselves as superior and such humiliation had to have some outlet. Thus those in power pushed very hard to catch up with the West.

      How this played out is a long story. But suffice it to say that those in the West who did not take Japan seriously, soon paid for this mistake. Unfortunately, so did millions of others.

      Keep on reading history!!!

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        The problem with Japan at the time was that Japan was forced open to the rest of the world and the elites of the country felt the humiliation of this. The Japanese had always thought of themselves as superior and such humiliation had to have some outlet. Thus those in power pushed very hard to catch up with the West.

        The free Kindle sample part of this gets into some of the humiliation of the Japanese supposedly wrought by the various forces (sometimes newspapers just competing to sell newspapers) in California — yes, touchy-feely, multiuculturalist, politically correct California. After the great San Francisco earthquake, the book notes that the Japanese were forced to go to schools in Chinatown and were excluded from white schools. The whole “yellow peril” thing started then and there.

        This pissed off the Japanese as well as the concessions brokered by Teddy at the peace talks between the Russians and Japanese that he hosted. The author says that beginning then, nearly any treaty or act of any power outside of Japan was viewed with paranoid suspicion. The author notes that this, combined with an extremely filtered press (never giving the bad news), led to a xenophobic and strong nationalism.

        Perhaps we see a parallel here where a filtered press has led to a bunch of zealous and unhinged liberals. Interesting as well was to learn that the navy, combined with the emperor, was the real power. There were many pro forma assemblies and legislatures, but already Japanese militarism was firmly rooted — seemingly based, as you suggest, with the shock of having gone from a closed to a country that was somewhat forced open. And whatever power Perry had to foment that change, the author of this book notes that the Japanese themselves saw the writing on the wall and thought the best defense was a good offense, so they threw themselves into building a strong navy because they knew, as an island nation, that is where trouble would come from.

        Of course, they themselves became the country that became trouble for others. I might buy this book and report further. We’ll see.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          San Francisco remained hostile to Japanese for a long time. When Iva Toguri was brought back to the US for trial, they were careful to put her on a flight to that city, not stopping in Hawaii on the way because the trial would happen where she first landed. They wanted a city that would easily supply a hostile jury, and got what they wanted.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          The Meiji era Japanese fully understood they were technologically backward, but were also convinced they had something spiritually the West didn’t have.

          The government instituted a policy to send chosen students overseas to pick up as much technological and political information as possible.

          They studied the systems and institutions of all advanced Western countries with the intent of learning from each and adopting characteristics from each country which were the most efficient and would best suit Japanese conditions.

          As I recall, they fashioned their Navy on the British Navy and their Army on the Prussian/German Army. I cannot recall which education system they adopted, but I believe it was the French system.

          Buddhism, as a foreign belief, was downplayed. And Shintoism was modified to become a more fanatical belief with the Emperor as a focal point. It must be noted, that prior to this time, the Emperor, while considered a deity of sorts, was not nearly as important as he became.

          I think it is fair to say that Japanese society and culture having for so long been cut off from the world, had become somewhat static and overly inward looking. Once a new catalyst was introduced, the energies which had been dormant, burst forth and remade the country. These energies which, in an open society, might have been spread out over centuries, were released in just a few years. Of course such energies can be negative as well as positive. But from being of no consequence to the rest of the world in 1850, Japan became hugely important by 1910.

          I think a similar dynamic has taken place elsewhere, such as with the Jews in Europe in the 19th century and China in the last 40 years.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            So basically what comes to mind, Mr. Kung, is that the Japanese of that era were like Star Trek’s Ferengi race*. You might not be a fan of The Next Generation, but the Ferengi were notorious for “borrowing” from other cultures.

            But clearly, from what you describe (always trying to make things relevant to our time, although history for history’s sake is just fine), the Japanese were not multiculturalists. They did not find “equal value” in all things. They seem to have made a conscious effort to take only the best elements. They didn’t copy, for instance, the Arab’s style of camel warfare and judge that since “all cultures are equally valid” that they would take that school of thought back home.

            *also bolstering my truism that “everything I need to know I learned in Star Trek

            • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

              I don’t know much about Star Trek and don’t know who the Ferengi’s are. Therefore, I have to trust your comparison.

              But, you are correct, the Japanese were wonderful borrowers. Much of their culture was borrowed from China in the Heian period. That is around the 6th century, as I recall.

              At the same time, they were racially homogeneous i.e. one big tribe and viewed things accordingly. It is amazing what a country can do when the population sees itself as one big family.

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                At the same time, they were racially homogeneous i.e. one big tribe and viewed things accordingly.

                The reigning paradigm is being as splintered and fractured as possible (that is, splitting up the supposed stranglehold of “white privilege”). What this is leading to is obvious: honoring lesser practices, as well as race for race’s sake, is devolving us to a third-world country. As much as the racist (for I think they truly are) Obama types think whites are “privileged,” we are “privileged” only in holding beliefs and practices that are demonstrably better. That’s not “white privilege” but “white common sense.” If getting a good education is “acting white,” as many blacks believe, then acting white they should do.

                One part of Dennis Prager’s trinity is “E Pluribus Unum” — out of many, one. And he notes that the Left is trying to do the opposite: out of one, many. There’s something to be said for racial tolerance as opposed to chronic ethnic animosity. But what need not be tolerated are the backward beliefs and habits of some races, religions, creeds, or cultures. But we have done so under the guise that eradicating “white privilege” demands it.

                And so we have bred a deep racial intolerance and dysfunction in people hidden in the guise of multiculturalism. As long as you believe that blacks, women, and homosexuals are victims, you can believe any damn thing you want. But to suggest that there are pathologies inherent in gangsta culture, feminism, or homosexual behavior suddenly means you have no rights. And that is what we see playing out.

                One can somewhat long for the days when there was more or less a white, Christian, Protestant majority in this country. As much as “Jews, Catholics, and homosexuals” often faced animosity or discrimination, a free and fair look (as we see with this current Marxist pope and Jews such as Marx and Engels) that perhaps there was some wisdom in these ancient prejudices. Perhaps “white culture” — the one we are throwing away — was actually the only one that to any extent had the roots and basic values that allowed coexistence among disparate peoples — as long as certain basic rules were obeyed (such as we don’t adopt Marxism, which seems extremely popular amongst Jews) or various forms of Communism (which at times seems indistinguishable from Catholicism proper). Nor is the destruction of families and promoting homosexual behavior a good thing for society.

                But the experiment is running, and we are coming apart at the seams. There will most likely be some kind of Pearl-Harbor-like unraveling all at once of the delusions inherent in Leftist beliefs. And then God help us. We will perhaps learn that what we threw away wasn’t all that bad.

      • Steve Lancaster says:

        Everyone talks about Mahan, and with good reason I would like to point out that tactics are not all naval. As a Marine I support the Navy after all the Marines are part of the department of the navy–the men’s department.

        Overlooked except by ground pounders is the influence of Emory Upton who, interestedly published about the same time as Mahan, his books on tactics, both good and bad, during the Civil War are still part of the regular curriculum at West Point and in the staff colleges.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Upton came to notice in a series of surprise attacks on Confederate entrenchments — first at Rappahannock Bridge in late 1863, then at Spotsylvania (May 10,1864).

          • Steve Lancaster says:

            Sherman thought so highly of Upton that after the war, say about 1876 or so he sent Upton around the world to evaluate the various armies of the major powers, including Japan. Upton’s major contribution after spending a considerable time in unified Germany under
            Bismarck, was to suggest the US create of a real general staff with officers trained in the various skills, of logistics, supply, intelligence and manpower. More than any other the current general staff model is taken from the Prussian that Upton observed during that trip.

            Stephen Ambrose wrote an excellent book on Upton called “Upton and the Army” Upton took his own life in about 1886 thinking himself a failure. His work has influenced men like Pershing, Patton, Puller, Ridgeway and Swartzkoff.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:


          I suppose Mahan was so influential due to the fact that there are not nearly so many books on naval tactics and strategy as there are on land based tactics and strategy.

          If I recall, in his book, Mahan claims something along the lines that the means of propulsion of ships might change but that that was not an overriding concern with tactics. I would have to go back and check to make sure I am correct, but as I recall, I thought that was a bit superficial thinking.

          I have not read Upton, but I understand certain battles between 1861 and 1865 are still studied for their tactics which can still be applied to warfare.

          • Steve Lancaster says:

            Mahan taught that control of the vital choke points of commerce was essential for a great power. UK in the 19th century controlled most of those points, Suez, Gibraltar, and access to and from the Indian Ocean. As English sea power wained in the years after WWI American naval power increased. The creation of a new choke point in Panama just before US entry into the war required a larger navy. Also the location of the US between two great oceans helped push Mahan’s theses. If you want to draw it down to the basics, without a navy capable of force projection 10,000 miles from home no state is a great power, still true today in the age of atomics.

    • Steve Lancaster says:

      During the first half of 1941 the two nexus of Japanese power, Army and Navy, were fighting each other, there were murders on both sides in and out of government. The issue was attack the US or attack the USSR. The army position was that the riches of Siberia would make Japan safe from American influence. The Navy position was that it would take time to develop Siberia and developed oil, gas, and rice resources were there for the taking in SE Asia.

      The FM Matsuoka favored working with their new ally Germany and traveled there to meet Hitler. His reception was at the best cool. Hitler did not inform his ally that he planned to invade the USSR that summer and left Matsuoka wondering what kind of ally Hitler was.

      Rather than return with nothing to show for the trip, Matsuoka stopped in Moscow to see Stalin. It was at this meeting that a nonaggression pact was signed guaranteeing Siberian autonomy and also forcing Japan to seek resources in SE Asia. To accomplish this task an attack on the US was necessary.

      Thus, by summer of 1941 Hitler was on his way east and nearly 100 well trained soviet divisions were on their way west. Had Hitler and Matsuoka struck an agreement to strike the USSR simultaneously it is likely that the Soviets would have surrendered on both fronts and the course of the war would have been much different.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        I’m not so sure that Japan could have defeated Soviet forces. They lacked strong armored formations, and in a major fight probably would have done no better than they did in August 1939. Of course, they would have held down a lot of Soviet divisions in Siberia, which would have greatly weakened the Soviet counter-attacks against Germany in December 1941.

        An important error both sides made was to assume that invading Malaya, Burma, and the East Indies would necessarily have led to war with the US. It certainly would have led to a complete shutdown of American trade, and FDR certainly wanted it to lead to war, but he needed to be attacked to justify it. This is the lesson of his personal order to Kemp Tolley to fit out the Lanikai to follow the Japanese — he wanted the ship to be attacked and sunk, after which US forces in the Philippines would counterattack the Japanese forces, and he would be involved in the war.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          I think the two biggest mistakes made by the Axis powers in WWII were, Hitler’s letting the BEF and others, get off the beaches of Dunkirk, and Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. But as Steve noted, there are always contending interests and ideas within any State. And that can help lead to bad decisions.

          My understanding was that the Japanese decided to go for S.E. Asia as the Dutch East Indies were already producing large quantities of crude oil and of course many other raw materials. Once they chose to do that, they were forced to attack Malaya and the Philippines as otherwise they would have left their supply lines terribly exposed.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            Hitler’s treatment of the slaves of Stalin has to rank up there at the top of Axis errors. Their model was theoretically India, but in fact the British accepted a certain number of puppet government in India, and treated the residents of those places they ruled directly far better than Hitler treated the Soviet citizens. India would supply the British with several million troops in World War II, many of them of exceptional quality, and Hitler could have gotten a lot of good troops as well if he’d tried. (They got a fair number of volunteers, mostly laborers, anyway.)

            • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

              By chance the Sueddeutsche Zeitung ran a three page article today explaining in more detail the mistake Hilter made at Dunkirk and why. The author agrees with me that had the BEF been captured or defeated at Dunkirk, Great Britain would have likely sued for some sort of peace.

              And in my opinion, had that happened, it is likely Hitler would have won the war as the USA would have not had any place to build up the forces required to bomb and invade Europe and Nazi Germany.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                Not to mention a much better supply situation without the British blockade (and Anglo-American supplies to the Soviet Union). Farthing, anyone?

        • Steve Lancaster says:

          The Japanese did not need to defeat the Soviets, all that was necessary was to keep those forces in Asia. Hitler would have a tough winter in 41/42 but without reinforcements the Soviets would have had to give up Moscow and Stalingrad. Hitler would have control of all of Soviet Union from Murmansk to the Black Sea, even if Stalin did not surrender it would be s massive strategic victory.
          With a stabilized Eastern front the rest of the Black Sea is up for grab and a relatively secure route to the ME and Asia.

          • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

            I tend to agree with this reasoning.

            And one mustn’t forget that moving German forces nearer the Urals would have made it easier for the Luftwaffe to bomb Soviet factories which supplied the war machine. That also have cut off substantial oil supplies to the Soviet armies.

            Without those factories, oil and ports for the Allies to deliver war materials, the Soviets would have been in a difficult spot.

            Nevertheless, it would have been an extraordinarily broad front for the Nazis to defend.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    TR was well aware of how the Japanese started their war with Russia — with a surprise attack by torpedo boats at Port Arthur. As for Pearl Harbor being a Navy exercise, similar exercises had been done in the past.

    An important part of Mahan’s book was the need for supply bases This very much influenced Kaiser Wilhelm in his naval policies, and thus contributed to the tensions that led to World War I.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      It mentions that Britain built the first large modern battleship…and instantly made obsolete all the other navies of the world. And certainly Japan had the Yamato and we had the New Jersey class battleships. And Germany had the Bismarck (brought down by a WWI plane).

      Surely in this book we’ll see the rapid realization of the importance of carrier-based aircraft…not that the U.S. Navy was blind to that for we already had a few. Will another sort of Pearl Harbor occur and we’ll see that drone-based (or smart-missile-based) weapons are the immediate future? It takes an enormous amount of men and materiel to support and defend on aircraft carrier — a carrier that could likely be brought down by a few relatively cheap conventional missiles.

      The same with pilots. I can certainly foresee their complete replacement by drones of various kinds and sizes. Ender’s Game might not be that far in our future.

      But the real problem lies in the fact that we have trouble denoting enemies. If raging nationalism and xenophobia is a curse on the world, it’s opposite (complete naive multiculturalism) probably won’t be much better in regards to restraining evil from running loose. We have a foreign policy now that has no term for “Islamic terrorism.” We can’t name the enemy. We have the might but no fight in us. We’re thrashing blindly in the dark.

      Japan’s attack on us focused us and snapped us out of our delusions and illusions. Churchill did his best to persuade us of the coming dangers, and he was fairly successful. I believe he had Roosevelt on board and Roosevelt was doing what he could in a nation who supposed Hitler was somebody else’s problem.

      In some ways we can view Islam the same way. It’s merely Israel’s problem. Or France’s problem. Or England’s problem. But if the earth is not to retreat into a dark age, Islam(ism) must be countered and ultimately destroyed.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        An interesting history of the battleship race before World War I is Dreadnought by Robert Massie. There were several key steps on the road to the modern superdreadnoughts such as the Iowa and Yamato — one of which came with the new armor layout pioneered by the Nevada.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          Sounds like a good book…a book apparently oriented more toward the supposed roots of WWI than the dreadnoughts, per se. Gauging by one of the reviews at Amazon, it seems that WWI is all Great Britain’s fault because when they built their first dreadnought, it started an arm’s race. This would be called the “technological” view of war. There are no men involved, or their motivations for expansion (or mere defense). The technology just somehow “drives” it all, as if it is a force as irresistible as a hurricane with no human choice involved or capable of being involved.

          • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

            Gauging by one of the reviews at Amazon, it seems that WWI is all Great Britain’s fault because when they built their first dreadnought, it started an arm’s race.

            This sounds like a particularly ignorant assessment of the origins of WWI. Was Princip concerned about Dreadnoughts when he assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife?

            Was the Austro-Hungarian Empire thinking about Dreadnoughts when they sent the ultimatum to Serbia?

            No doubt technological advancement plays a role in how wars are waged. The use of the atomic bomb is probably the most important example of this. But arms races generally mean there is some sort of parity, otherwise, there would not be a race. So unless one side believes it has overwhelming technological superiority or a side believes an opponent is about to gain overwhelming technological superiority, arms races don’t lead to war. What often leads to wars is generally human error or misunderstanding of things.

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              There’s a large block of people out there — many of them pseudo-“pacifists” — who believe that my the West having weapons, we are provoking the Soviet Union, or Russia, or China, or Islam, or whatever.

              This is a libertarian belief as well, and is why their foreign policy always devolves to isolationism and is almost indistinguishable from that of George McGovern: If only the West would disengage from world affairs, we wouldn’t have the conflicts that we do.

              • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

                George McGovern: If only the West would disengage from world affairs, we wouldn’t have the conflicts that we do.

                If only pigs could fly, we would have to carry umbrellas in the sunshine.

                If only I were born in 1870 in Austria I could have strangled Hitler in his crib.

                IF…. attempts to avoid facts which require us to deal with reality. Observing was IS and understanding it, is more useful when dealing with life’s problems that wishing IF.

              • Bell Phillips says:

                The voices on the radio that tell me how to think have given me a few observations over the years that really stick in my head. Limbaugh: I never got a job from a poor guy. Coulter:Liberals worship their leaders, we can barely tolerate ours. Bumper sticker size, but incisive.

                Something I’ve heard more than once lately, sorry I can’t attribute it, is “Weakness is provocative.”

                Ukraine. Syria.

                My foreign policy has always been to speak softly and carry a big stick. I’ve long accepted that peace comes through strength, but until hearing that line recently, I never really considered its converse. I would have said “weakness is risky.”

                But there is ALWAYS a bully on the playground. And that bully WILL do what bullies do, if you allow yourself to be weak. It’s your moral obligation to be as strong as you can, and stick up for the ones who can’t be strong.

                Being strong doesn’t make you a bully, but being weak makes you (and your friends) a target.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            The Dreadnought didn’t start an arms race, because that was already occurring. It gave the British a lead, but it also rendered all older battleships obsolescent — and the British were actually hurt the most by it. In any case, if the British hadn’t done it, someone else would have (apparently the Italians were looking into such a concept as well).

            I suspect the reviewer misinterpreted Massie. I don’t recall getting that impression from the book. The real blame for the Anglo-German naval arms race goes to the Kaiser for trying to build a stronger fleet than the British had, even though the latter needed maritime supremacy for their survival in the event of war. By doing so, the Kaiser also allowed his army to lose much of its relative advantage over France and Russia.

            • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

              The real blame for the Anglo-German naval arms race goes to the Kaiser for trying to build a stronger fleet than the British had, even though the latter needed maritime supremacy for their survival in the event of war.

              Furthermore, being an island nation, Great Britain’s economic survival was dependent on open sea lanes. This, of course, ties in with her being an international colonial empire. Thus the imperative for a strong naval.

              Germany was a land power and had no such requirements or considerations. But the Kaiser was irritated that Germany did not have an huge overseas empire like Great Britain. Given the fact that Germany was united into a nation only in 1870-71, the fact that they didn’t have an overseas empire is not surprising.

              The phrase, Unser Platz an die Sonne” (our place in the sun” was used to express this desire for colonies.

              It is worthwhile noting that Bismarck had no desire for overseas colonies. He was spoke actively against their acquisition.

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              From what I’ve read at Amazon, it seems the book by Massie to read is his Peter the Great. More than one reviewer said that even if you’re not interested in Peter the Great or Russian history, it’s a great read. I’ve downloaded the sample.

              I suspect the reviewer misinterpreted Massie.

              That’s certainly possible. I’ve read a few more reviews and people get quite heated in regards to who they think is responsible for WWI. Another fellow says it’s absurd to blame Germany for trying to keep up with Britain’s naval might. It’s Britain’s fault for choosing France and Russia as allies.

              WWI becomes much like a Rorschach inkblot. You can read anything you want into it. I’m somewhat of an agnostic on it. But it’s a good lesson that history (or politics) can be fashioned into anything you like, depending upon the skill of the writer or orator.

              • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

                From what I’ve read at Amazon, it seems the book by Massie to read is his Peter the Great.

                I have the book and can recommend it.

                WWI becomes much like a Rorschach inkblot. You can read anything you want into it.

                Of course human interaction is complicated and no book or theory can go into every single event or policy which causes a war. That being said, the main themes can be intelligently addressed and explained. Combatants will view events from a different perspective, but a good historian should be able to sift through the emotions and come up with a good idea of why WWI came about. From my experience on the internet, most of the comments posted in such discussions show the fact that most people are not historians, much less good historians.

                If you wish to read a good review of the proximate causes of WWI, I can recommend the following excellent, unbiased piece published on a site of some note:


              • Timothy Lane says:

                I’ve read Massie’s biography of Peter the Great, and can also recommend it. Two other biographies of tsars that I heartily recommend are Benson Bobrick’s of Ivan the Terrible aka Ivan the Awe-Inspiring (Fearful Majesty) and Edward Radzinsky’s of Alexander II (The Last Great Tsar).

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I’ve read Massie’s biography of Peter the Great, and can also recommend it.

    Didn’t someone say that unless you learn from history you’re bound to repeat it? It makes me think that we should have a separate “History Shelf” for the very best of history books. Not just average books. Not just above-average books. And not just personal favorites. But history books that are outstanding. And it sounds as if this is one of them.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      Didn’t someone say that unless you learn from history you’re bound to repeat it

      George Santayana said, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” and “only the dead have seen the end of war.”

      I think it would be more proper to say, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it’s mistakes.”

      I do not hold with the idea that “history repeats itself.” The march of humanity is much to dynamic and time specific to do that. What I do believe is that there are certain themes and occurrences which are common to humanity and if one studies these one might learn enough to put such themes and occurrences into a present day context and draw general conclusions about a given time or situation.

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Having purchased this book, I’m 10% into it and it remains a good read.

    I’m at the point where Churchill has just sent “Force Z” (including the battleships Prince of Wales and Repulse) (against the advice of his ministers) in search of the Japanese fleet in and around Singapore. And the ships did so without air cover. It was thought that the Japanese would be no match for battleships that were manned and ready for battle. They were promptly sunk by Japanese airplanes, hitting them with a one-two punch of high bombers and low torpedo planes.

    The inescapable conclusion of the author is that even after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese were woefully underestimated. The author said that there were widespread racial views that the Japanese were not capable of building, in particular, effective aircraft and even if they did, if the fact of them being slanted-eyed didn’t decrease their aviation skills then their woeful lack of being able to act and think as individuals would.

    My first interest in this book isn’t the recap of Pearl Harbor or the early defeats elsewhere in the Pacific, although those are unavoidable in telling the story. My interest is in who gets sacked and how the Navy gets restructured, if indeed there is any major restructuring, if even in thought (which I’m sure there was). We know Halsey was not blamed and fought on. But others surely were — not including MacArthur who apparently was all but AWOL in his response to the Japanese attacks in the Philippines.

    There’s some interesting background material on FDR as well. He wrote 100% of his “Day of infamy” speech we he gave before a joint session of Congress which was listened to by a then record 60 million Americans. The next day those numbers were repeated when he gave his 20th fireside chat — a speech written by his speechwriters but delivered expertly. The author describes Roosevelt throughout this early period of crisis as certainly in control, but gone was any sense of light-heartedness or joking. He was serious and all business.

    Churchill was ecstatic and went to bed that night with a weight lifted off of him and his nation. He was completely sure this meant the end of Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany. The rest was details. He may have been the only one who thought so.

    FDR showed something that Obama is incapable of: acknowledging his true enemy and steeling for battle. FDR was, at the time, the personification of America’s will to not just fight but to completely defeat the Empire of Japan. There can be little doubt that the idea of unconditional surrender, although unspoken, was an assumed position.

    After giving his fireside chat where he spelled out the job that Americans had to do, he went to his study and messed about with his stamp collection…showing a man who was surely as steady and sane as they come (although still a politician and still one who laid the groundwork for the Big Government that is smothering us today).

    It’s also interesting to learn that in 1941, very few people knew much about Hawaii. It was a mere territory. Many had some inkling that it was in the Pacific, but most had to run to a map to find it. This is believable if only because many today think Alaska and Hawaii are somewhere in Mexico or right off the coast of California because many maps showing the United States include those two states as a disembodied graphic inset.

    All but one member of the House or Senate voted for a declaration of war. And we all know who that was: Baghdad Jim McDermott from Washington State. Only joking, but he’s the type. A complete lunatic…suitable for Obama’s cabinet which makes me wonder why he was never offered higher office.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Actually, the aircraft carrier Indomitable (the newest British fleet carrier) was supposed to be part of Force Z, but it ran aground on the way and was too damaged to join the battleship and battlecruiser. How much difference it would have made given the inferior quality of British carrier aircraft is hard to say, particularly since the main need was effective fighter defense.

      The scapegoats for Pearl Harbor were Admiral Husband Kimmel and General Walter Short. They certainly made mistakes — Kimmel was mainly concerned about submarines (which in fact were part of the attack, though much less important than the air attack) and Short about sabotage — but they weren’t the only ones, and many people (including Halsey, Nimitz, and Morison in his history) thought they deserved another chance.

      According to William J. Lederer, even after the initial Japanese attacks, people still doubted their abilities, and in fact believed the bomb crews had to be Germans in Hawaii and the Philippines. (The Japanese navy had the best training program in the world at the time, though it produced too few pilots to be continued at that rate during an active war.) Lederer was a navy officer, so he presumably knew what he was talking about.

  5. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    I’m at the point where Churchill has just sent “Force Z” (including the battleships Prince of Wales and Repulse)

    These vessels were sunk off the east coast of Malaya. It is amazing that Churchill sent these ships off without air cover as Churchill was the originator of the naval air corps and a big believer in the effectiveness of air power. Interestingly, what the Japanese did to these vessels was paid back in spades when the U.S. Navy destroyed three Japanese aircraft carriers in addition to sinking other Japanese naval vessels. So the US had learned the lesson.

    While living in Singapore, I had an old English friend who was born in Malaya in the 1920’s. He told me that the outline of the Prince of Wales and Repulse (which had been in on the campaign which sank the Bismarck) were visible from the air when one passed over the area.

    Japanese were woefully underestimated. The author said that there were widespread racial views that the Japanese were not capable of building, in particular, effective aircraft and even if they did, if the fact of them being slanted-eyed didn’t decrease their aviation skills then their woeful lack of being able to act and think as individuals would.

    I think it is difficult to understand the thinking of the time. To begin with, the distances which were covered in the campaign are enormous. And for any navy to mount such a multi-pronged assault as the Japanese did on Dec 8th would be difficult for any country including the USA. So I am not sure such a broad campaign was expected.

    Secondly, the attitude of Westerners to Asians was heavily colored by colonialism. Large areas of the world with millions of people were being ruled by Westerners. And by in large, the Westerners had brought about substantial material improvement in the lives of many of the ruled. And Westerners ruled these countries of millions with a few thousands. For example, I doubt that Westerners made up more than 1% of the total population of Singapore at the time. Thus Westerners had a very superior attitude to most Asians.

    And I believe because of this very deeply held attitude, the powers that be were completely shocked at the ability of the Japanese to do what they did. Again, taking Singapore as an example, when Singapore surrendered, there were more troops to defend Singapore than Japanese invaders. The Japanese came down the East Coast Road on bicycles. They had the Strait of Johor standing between them and Singapore, yet they won. I believe the Brits and Americans were somehow shocked into a kind of stupor for some period of time and before they came out of it, it was too late. The British and Americans were prepared physically, but not mentally.

    And the lightening defeat of the Western Powers by Japan, all but put a fork into colonialism in Asia.

  6. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I’m 14% in this, and so far this is exactly the kind of history I like. It’s not too detailed, nor does it paint in such broad strokes that you don’t get the feel for anything. It’s a fairly good outline.

    It contains a good capsule biography of Yamamoto. He’s an unusual man by any standards and certainly broke the Japanese mold by being an individualist. He was short even for a Japanese (5′ 3″) but commanded respect. He loved his Geishas, was once seen walking down the street (while commander in chief) on his hands. He was every bit the model Japanese naval officer and yet idiosyncratic in various ways that he simply somehow got away with. He was against a military dictatorship and war with the United States but somehow survived the purges of the more democratic-friendly officers to lead the naval war. He had massive successes (Pearl Harbor) and massive failures (Midway and the inability to retake Guadalcanal). He died a warrior’s death. And he was damn good at gambling of various sorts.

    Here’s an interesting bit in the book. Tell me if this was written by Pope Francis or Nazi propagandists:

    [they] had caricatured America as helplessly splintered by race, ethnicity, class, and creed; as a pampered, luxury-loving society in which the only cause that aroused the people was the pursuit of the almighty dollar; as a nation of loafers and malingerers, overpaid, overfed, and over-enfranchised, in which politicians went with hats in hand to receive the benediction of union bosses. To their eyes, the United States was a sprawling, individualistic, leisure-loving nation, strung out on jazz, movies, baseball, comic strips, horse racing, and radio comedies…

    The answer: Nazi propagandists. But it reminds me of when Rush would read some of the pronouncements of Osama bin Laden. As Rush noted, they sounded almost indistinguishable from the Democrat Party.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Yamamoto was a capable sort, but he had a weakness for complicated plans that split the fleet into multiple separate groups. At Midway, a third of their carrier aircraft were unavailable to Admiral Nagumo.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        I look forward to this author’s analysis of Midway. I’m pretty sure he’ll come to the same conclusion that I did: Glenn Ford as Rear Adm. Spruance was absolutely crucial. And Chuck Heston as Matt Garth helped to further tip the balance.

        Apparently Robert Mitchum was sidelined at the moment with some skin disease. But the Bull got his licks in in lots of places.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          Have a look at “Miracle at Midway” by Gordon Prange.

          What was absolutely critical was the success of our naval dive bombers. The torpedo planes were a bust and, as I recall, all shot down.

          Our naval shipyard crews in Hawaii were also crucial. USS Yorktown had been badly damaged in the Battle of the Coral Sea and returned to Hawaii for repairs. It was estimated these would take about two weeks. But Nimitz said he needed them completed in a couple of days. And the crews did it. The Yorktown was turned around in 48 hours and took part in Midway. The Japanese thought she was another carrier. Had she not taken part in the fight who knows how things would have turned out.

          If you would like to read something about Pearl Harbor then I recommend Prange’s “At Dawn We Slept”.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            Yes, I understand the work on the Yorktown was an amazing accomplishment. And I think they were doing much of the repairs while underway to Midway. It will be interesting to see what kind of detail this book goes into. Some detail would be nice.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            Morison in his naval history noted that neither of the large Japanese carriers involved at the Coral Sea took part in Midway (Shokaku because of damage, Zuikaku because of losses of planes and crews) — but Yorktown did. So even though Coral Sea wasn’t much of a victory tactically, it ended up being strategically very important.

  7. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    It’s interesting reading some of the details of how Japan turned from a nascent democracy to a military dictatorship. Apparently a lot of this was driven by mid-level officers with those higher up either going along (by staying out of it) or just staying out of it. That’s an interesting development to me because I figured that Japan would be a very top-down culture where you obeyed your superiors. But the author notes there is a tradition (and a word for it, which I forget) for this kind of action.

    Seeing what our Supreme Court has done — as Rush noted, the rule of law is about kaput — it’s easy to sympathize with some of the propaganda of the militarists. Yes, democracy was corrupt. We see that in our own country. And why not form a government, a cause, and a nation around the Emperor? Of course, the Emperor (often complicit, sometimes not, sometimes staying out of it to see which way the wind was blowing) was a mere puppet for this newfound glorification of the god-emperor cult, for this god-emperor might just as well have wanted peace. Funny how he wanted the same things as the most strident militarists did…or so said the intense propaganda.

    But we’re somewhat in the same position. What do you do if what you have now isn’t working? Well, we don’t have a divine Emperor to appeal to and rally around, although we might (as we do) sort of deify the Founding Fathers. The fact is, even though Hitler and the Japanese militarists simply used the problems of the day to justify their agenda, there were real problems in Germany and Japan. And democracy was apparently a weak and somewhat corrupt institution, and a fairly new one, thus one easier to give the heave-ho.

    What do we rally around while the socialists run rampant? To some extent, I do understand the libertarian zealousness, for young men are always hot for change. And we do need change. But is that the best there is to offer?

    History might not alway repeat itself. But we can see from the history of Japan (and other countries as well) what could come next. I doubt a military dictatorship is in our future. But who knows the future? All one can know is that things that can’t go on forever eventually don’t.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      It’s interesting reading some of the details of how Japan turned from a nascent democracy to a military dictatorship

      There was certainly more nascence than democracy in Japan at this time. For about two hundred and fifty years, the country had been ruled under the Tokugawa Shogunate. People could not move around the country without special permits and they didn’t choose which Tokugawa family member ran things.

      The idea of democracy had no roots thus it is not surprising that elective governance failed.

      As to Hirohito, I believe the man should have been tried as a war criminal. But since I was not MacArthur and was not there, I didn’t have any say in the matter. Have a look at, “Hirohito, Behind the Myth” by Edward Behr.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        As to Hirohito, I believe the man should have been tried as a war criminal.

        There was a movie fairly recently that I watched about that era. I probably reviewed it here someone. But my general impression from the movie and other sources is that MacArthur simply deemed it necessary for the goal of rebuilding Japan to whitewash the Emperor’s record. And they did a pretty good job of it. And I agree with what he did. It was a special circumstance.

        Of course, Tojo didn’t get quite the same treatment.

    • Steve Lancaster says:

      I remember well the 70s, the end of Vietnam, inflation, stagnation and the appearance to the rest of the world that America was on the verge of failing. As an active member of the military and later spook for over 20 years. The disintegration of our institutions including the military was plain to see.

      So, 40 years later what has changed? We have a president who actively subverts the constitution, the only thing holding inflation in check is the massive transfer of funny money through the Federal Reserve, our institutions are under attack by social democrats, the courts have turned the meaning of language into a pretzel. The only institution that the American people look to with respect is the military. In spite of defense cutbacks our military currently does not reflect the current status of other institutions.

      I find this disturbing. It would not take much for a group of officers to actually stage a coup, and supported by a large enough slice of the population to be successful.

      History demonstrates that when the usual institutions of a nation-state decline so does the nation-state. When one institution remains above the fray, so to speak, that institution is looked to by the people to resolve the economic and political mess. Most of the time it is the military, the sad history of Europe in the 20s and 30s serves to demonstrate that. Or it can be the church, 15th century Spain is an example with Pope Alexander VI a viable example.

      While I think a coup unlikely, at this time, it is closer to reality than it was 40 years ago.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        The only institution that the American people look to with respect is the military. In spite of defense cutbacks our military currently does not reflect the current status of other institutions.

        I find this disturbing. It would not take much for a group of officers to actually stage a coup, and supported by a large enough slice of the population to be successful.

        As in Japan, Steve, my guess that it would take a bunch of young Turks to stage a coup with the elders either passively acquiescing or simply sitting on the fence seeing how it all turns out. Sounds like the grist for a Clancy novel.

        I respect the military personnel to some degree (I have to roll my eyes when I see 110 lb. chicks in camo…clearly the military is being transferred into a social program, not a place whose purpose is to kill people and break things, as Rush says). But for the rank and file, I have respect. Less so for what is apparently an increasingly politically correct officer class. There’s no way in hell the officer class would ever stage a coup. They’re on the same page as the Obama types from what I understand. If anything, they’d offer little or no resistance to illegal (and dangerous) orders should they ever come down from a dictator-like president (we’re getting there).

        What probably needs to happen is what the South did, but instead doing it for a good reason this tiime. There needs to be a group of confederated states who don’t secede, per say, but say “We’re not abiding by your unconstitutional laws.” I envision Texas as the natural ringleader. But who would join? Well, one never can tell what events will unfold. We’ve seen such insults to our way of life, with people not even managing a whimper of protest, that it’s difficult to believe there ever will be a tipping point with this crowd.

        The problem is, the citizenry are thoroughly indoctrinated with this stuff to a large extent. As Rush was saying today, “I don’t know why others aren’t seeing what I’m seeing.” He was talking about the logical conclusion (I saw it immediately as well) that if the Confederate flag were to be PC’d out of existence, next on the list is the American flag. He is right and kooks such as Farrakhan are already stating it.

        History demonstrates that when the usual institutions of a nation-state decline so does the nation-state. When one institution remains above the fray, so to speak, that institution is looked to by the people to resolve the economic and political mess. Most of the time it is the military, the sad history of Europe in the 20s and 30s serves to demonstrate that.

        Steve, I think that’s an outstanding bit of analysis. I don’t know whether or not that’s true, but it has the ring of truth. My brother was playing a translation of a Hitler speech the other day on YouTube…just for shits and giggles, I guess. And I watched over his shoulder and everything he said made sense, including his distaste for Marxists. Granted, I don’t abide by his hatred of Jews, but even then there is much truth to just how many Jews had turned from God, adopted atheism, and were forwarding something as bad, if not worse, than National Socialism: Marxism and Communism.

        The point is, there is more than enough material right now for the basis of a revolution, coup, or some such dramatic and sudden change. What we have going now, of course, is sort of a slow-motion coup which is what “fundamentally transform” has in mind anyway.

        I agree with you about a military coup being unlikely. And I think that’s a good thing because I doubt anyone right now could replace it with anything better. But what is happening in this country is the coarsening of the citizenry as we all become liars, thieves, and beggars to one degree or another under secularism and socialism. We are already quite revolting.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          In discussing the officer class, one must distinguish between those in the lower levels who still believe in “Duty, honor, country” and the increasingly careerist upper levels (who may not be liberal, but are willing to “go along to get along” as long as Barry Screwtape Obama is running the show). The higher you go, the more important careerism becomes.

        • Steve Lancaster says:

          History demonstrates that when the usual institutions of a nation-state decline so does the nation-state. When one institution remains above the fray, so to speak, that institution is looked to by the people to resolve the economic and political mess. Most of the time it is the military, the sad history of Europe in the 20s and 30s serves to demonstrate that.

          Thanks, but this bit of analysis is mostly due to a CIA training class I took in 72 conducted by J.J.Angleton, called if I recall correctly Institutions and revolution. Shortly thereafter we were sent to Chile.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            Angleton is notorious for his paranoid conviction that everything that happened was a deep-rooted Soviet plot (even the fall of the Soviet empire). What was he like as a teacher.

            • Steve Lancaster says:

              He was somewhat off putting, academically, but that was balanced by his stories to illustrate a point. He was a good boss, who gave specific instructions on goals and left implementation to those in the field.

              My closest friend stayed with CIA for his entire career, I left in 74. He said that JJ was convinced to his last puff, he was a heavy smoker, that were moles in the Agency planted by the Soviets. Aldridge Ames is the best example although years after JJ left the agency, but there were others and hints of others.

              One of the games played by Moscow Center was to suggest that every defector was the result of coat trailing by KGB. This proved true often enough to create a special group within CIA to establish the bona fides of defectors. My friend told me that one of the officers in that group was suspected of being a Soviet mole.

              The split between Colby and Angleton was real, however, Colby never gave up the “crown jewels” to the Church committee. The real story of CIA in the 50s-70s is and will be always secret.

              It calls to mind a T-shirt sent to me by a friend in Israel. It says ” MOSSAD
              My job is so secret, that I don’t even know what it is”

    • Timothy Lane says:

      John Toland in The Rising Sun discussed the Japanese military tradition of gekokujo, which is a form of civil disobedience for the furtherance of the national cause. Many of the people who went along with the junior officers (such as Colonel Masanobu Tsuji, arguably real the architect of the Bataan Death March) did so out of fear of assassination.

      A crucial step in turning Japan into an effective military dictatorship came when they gave the military services a veto power over the cabinet ministers in charge of them. This meant no government could be formed without military approval.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        John Toland in The Rising Sun discussed the Japanese military tradition of gekokujo, which is a form of civil disobedience for the furtherance of the national cause.

        Yes, the author mentioned that same aspect…likely using the same word, but I won’t bother to look it up. And, yes, from what I read, quite a few politicians went along in order to avoid assassination. Apparently this was also so regarding large corporations who were strong-armed to “donate” to the militarists. Like I said, this book does seem to be doing a good job of checking off the main points, giving just enough detail without getting bogged down in minutia.

        Granted, no good was going to come from this militarist movement. I think what happened was surely consistent with the Mr. Kung Rule whereby such regimes (such as Islam) empower those 2 to 3% of people in a population who are psychopaths. How else to explain the Rape of Nanking?

        The Japanese has unleashed the beast. And they had to be brought down, including using the nuclear bomb. As ye so, so shall ye reap. That was never truer in regards to the “innocent” civilians who went along with this stuff. Granted, perhaps many had little choice. But it’s also true, just as it was in Nazi Germany, that these maniacs were pushing policies that were, at least as advertised, quite popular — popular enough that such beliefs had the soil to grow in.

        And that’s what we face with Obama. It’s a difficult task to pour cold water over the heads of the rubes who believe he is simply for “social justice.” And they will inevitably play for their complicity.

  8. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I’m 23% into this book now. There’s a lot of interesting factoids in it. Some of you history buffs may have been aware of them but much is new to me.

    It’s interesting that 37 percent (158,000) of the Hawaiian territory was made up of ethnic Japanese. Internment was apparently not considered an option. Soldiers and sailors shuffled to Japan would see the overwhelming number of Japanese and quip “Gosh, did the Japs win?”

    Nimitz is on his way to replace Kimmel as commander in the Pacific. He’s taking a slow train ride from Washington to California giving him time to get some sleep, read some briefs, and clear his head. In the meantime, Admiral Pye is the on-site guy in charge and he’s full of indecision. The guys on Wake are left to their fate. The general feeling was echoed by Commander Edwin Layton:

    “To lose to an enemy that fought you, and fought you well, was one thing. But to lose because your own admiral was a ‘nervous Nellie’ was another.”

    I was somewhat surprised that the American carrier force at this point was not ready for battle conditions. They were having great trouble just accomplishing at-sea refueling.

    The author goes into some detail on the Japanese airmen training. It was a very exclusive club, at least at first. And training included somewhat regular and savage beatings. It was thought that such things would make a good airman. The army had similar brutal means. New recruits in China were sometimes ordered to stab a Chinese man who was tied to a statke…his heart carefully marked so that it could be avoided, a slower death being the desired result. Such things had the result, as quoted by one Japanese soldier, to put a look of bestial insanity into the eyes of the typical soldier.

    One thing to note in all this is all the complaints by the Japanese government of the various treaties that limited them in regards to how big their navy could be and other such things. The radical Japanese sound like Obama. We were dismissed as an “imperialist” country that had “exploited” the Asians and needed to be purged. Surely some exploitation occurred. But those were self-serving excuses for maniacs, just as it is for our maniac president.

    The fact is, look at the world when Britain and the United States had the power. And then look at the world when Japan had equal power (when various agreements were abrogated or just not renewed…and Japan went into full militarization mode). The wisdom of the West was shown. The Japanese, unleashed, were a plague on the world.

    This is something to think about regarding the handling of Iran. What we typically hear is how bad the United States is. If only we would get out of world affairs. But the fact is, if Iran was unleashed like Japan was, similar results can be expected.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      And training included somewhat regular and savage beatings. It was thought that such things would make a good airman.

      There was something of the sadist in the Japanese militarist.

      While I lived in Japan I heard the following:

      A Japanese, let’s call him Fuji, who had moved to America as a child returned to Japan before Pearl Harbor. As he had grown up in the USA in a Japanese home, he could speak Japanese, but not read it.

      During the war Fuji was a private or corporal. He had just been transferred to some camp and one of the first evenings he was there he was going to bathe, wrapped in a bath towel and saw a bathing area full of soldiers laughing and soaking. Fuji went in, got clean and spent some time with the others drinking some sake and enjoying himself.

      The next day, Fuji was walking in the camp wearing his uniform and ran into one of his bath mates of the night before. Unfortunately, the bath mate was an officer. The officer saw Fuji and seeing he was an enlisted man, went berserk.

      He took off his samurai sword and proceeded to beat Fuji about the head and shoulders with the hilt. Apparently, this went on for some while and Fuji was very badly injured but eventually it stopped.

      Why the beating you ask? It turned out that there was a small sign on the bathhouse that Fuji went into the night before. It said “officers bathhouse” or something of that sort. Unfortunately, Fuji could not read Japanese and paid dearly for it.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      The author goes into some detail on the Japanese airmen training. It was a very exclusive club, at least at first
      One of the biggest mistakes the Japanese military made was keeping their top pilots on active service at the front. The USA rotated many of their better pilots back to the USA to train future pilots. As a result, the USA had a constant stream of new well trained pilots, whereas Japan’s source of well trained pilots steadily shrank. The logical conclusion of both policies was seen in “the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot”.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Yes, I’d heard that before. The U.S. did a magnificent job of maximizing the skills that front-line pilots picked up.

        I found it interesting as well that although the Japanese (mostly in secret) built some very fine aircraft for its time, the manufacturing process didn’t scale up very well. This wasn’t Henry Ford-style automation. There was an interesting anecdote of planes coming out of the plant, being put on oxcarts, and wheeled quite a ways to the testing/distribution point. And it stayed this way (in this one location) till the end of the war.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          It is a little known fact that the Germans made extensive use of horse drawn wagons during WWII. Those dead horses one sees in photos showing the aftermath of the “Falaise Gap” are there for a reason.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            I think you’re right that it is a little-known fact. But being a documentary junkie to some extent, yours truly knew that fact. As I understand it, shortages of petrol was the main influence. Shoulda bypassed Moscow and headed for the oil in the Balkans (or wherever).

            Here’s a tangent (just to get your opinion on it). It’s interesting to note about Nimitz that apparently he was a great leader because he put great leaders in positions of power and let them do their thing.

            And Eisenhower certainly had some of those traits. I mean, in the end, he did mostly stick with Patton, but we see political correctness seeping in even then. Is slapping a soldier really grounds for all that bother? And just like MacArthur, Patton tried as best he could to rebuild his designated area (Bavaria?). In Patton’s opinion, he couldn’t do it as well without using a few ex-Nazis. In MacArthur’s opinion, he couldn’t do it without rehabilitating Hirohito.

            But the command structure got their panties all in a bunch. I happen to like Patton’s straight shooting. Perhaps we should have taken on the Communists there and then (although that certainly wasn’t militarily feasible).

            Anyway, the context I’m bringing to is I’m wondering if Eisenhower himself, although apparently a great pencil-pusher and organizer, did as much as a great general would have on D-Day given the truly enormous resources at his disposal. You read those accounts of the slaughter on a couple of the beaches and I think “That’s the best that complete air superiority can get you?” Granted, a lot of the German gun emplacements were well hidden or protected. But Eisenhower was perhaps right to draft a “We effed-up” press release as an option (which he apparently did do) in case things did go bad. Had Hitler released his Panzer divisions, is there any reason to believe that at least two or three beachheads would have been lost?

            Anyway, sometimes just the ability to throw men into a meat grinder (as happened over and over again in the Pacific island-hopping campaign) is the mark of a good leader. Maybe that’s all anyone could do on D-Day. Still, I wonder sometimes if this guy isn’t over-rated.

            • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

              I have never been a big Eisenhower fan. I believe he was a better president than general.

              In my opinion, he was strictly a political general. I have always suspected that one of the reasons Marshall pulled him out of the lower ranks and gave him seniority was that he would be loyal to Marshall and those generals in place where not beholden to Marshall.

              But MacArthur did say Eisenhower was the best clerk he ever had.

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                LOL. Leave it to MacArthur to have a good quip. Hadn’t heard that one before.

              • Steve Lancaster says:

                You are right on with the political aspect of Ike, however, he was realistic enough to give Patton a long leash at St. lo.

                I admit to bias, but my hero in the war in the pacific is Chesty Puller he earned all 5, count them 5 Navy Crosses. He once asked my father if he wanted to be an officer, my dad had the good sense to say hell no! Puller made him a gunny that day.

              • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:


                Every Marine I have ever met loves Chesty Puller.

            • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

              Fyi, Eisenhower never commanded any troops in battle. Not even a platoon.

              I find it odd that a soldier without any actual battle experience could become head of SHAEF.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                Too many American commanders had no such experience. MacArthur and Patton both commanded troops in combat in France, but many of our other generals never had (including Marshall). That’s what happens when you’re only active in the war for a year or less (I don’t think any American troops were in action during 1917 or early 1918).

    • Timothy Lane says:

      When Yardley’s The American Black Chamber came out (revealing a lot of American secrets, which made Yardley persona non grata with other American cryptologists, such as William Friedman), it was very popular in Japan.

      Nimitz didn’t think Kimmel should have been cashiered. Layton, at the end, defended Kimmel’s performance, and wrote a book on the subject titled And I Was There (which had been his response to Admiral Turner — who deserved a lot of the blame because of his efforts to centralize all code-breaking under his control in Washington — when Turner criticized Kimmel at the Japanese surrender).

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Well, these types will tend to close ranks. Fact is, as I understand it, the base was not on any kind of state of alert. The ships were not strategically moored. It was slip-shod, top to bottom.

        If Kimmel is given a break it is perhaps only because it wouldn’t be quite fair to make him a scapegoat. I don’t think his lax attitude was anything but ordinary.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Kimmel prepared for submarine attack, not expecting an attack by air. Note that one of his major tasks was training — and the Japanese were very impressed by how quickly the Americans recovered from their surprise and started shooting back. He no doubt should have been cashiered as CINCPAC — but he still should have been given a chance later on, along with Short.

          • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

            I think the question is why the US command did not take in the lessons of Taranto, which took place a year before Pearl Harbor? The success of the British naval air forces against the Italian fleet was clear for all to see. And the British used planes which were inferior to what the Japanese had.

            I suppose nobody thought a Japanese fleet could get so close to Hawaii without being detected.

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              There might have been a “PC” factor at work, Mr. Kung. Going to war against Germany, for example, was very unpopular (at least until after Pearl Harbor and after Hitler declared war on us). All that stuff was thought to be not our concern. I do believe Roosevelt had to work hard (skirting the edge of his legitimate powers) to help the British. And he did the right thing. As they say, the Constitution is not a suicide pact.

              And there seemed to be a general attitude that the Japanese just weren’t clever enough to take us on. And it very well could be (the “PC” part of this) that because the idea of war was so unpopular, it may have been unconsciously in the back of many people’s mind to tone down the military readiness, to not give any kind of impression that things were more dangerous than we wanted to believe.

              Hey, but at least the flat-tops were out to sea…and according to this book, only then because they were delayed because some ship got caught in another ship’s cable.

            • Timothy Lane says:

              The key lesson of Taranto was the use of torpedoes in relatively shallow water. Whether they got the idea from the British attack or not, the Japanese came up with a way of doing this (though it didn’t always work). The Japanese planes were indeed better than the British, though the US battleships were also better than most of the Italian ones. And, of course, the Japanese had a lot more planes available.

              • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

                I am not sure the key lesson was the use of torpedoes in shallow water, although the British ability to do this contributed to their success.

                To my knowledge, prior to Taranto there had been no such aerial attack on ships in a wartime setting. Of course many ships had been torpedoed in order to sell the value of air power in navies. But Taranto was clear proof of the theory.

  9. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Woulda coulda shoulda.

    I find it interesting the picture that Ian Toll paints of the early war (Dec. 7, 1941, to about March or April of ’42). And included in this portrait is the gigantic presence of Yamamoto. He seemed to be the militarists’ best friend and worst enemy.

    Yamamoto is a confused picture. He’s against war with the United States but then pushes for the most provocative act against the United States that one could conceive of, perhaps excluding bombing Hollyweird (although would anyone go to war with Japan if they did that today?) The nation, and particularly FDR, are angered and steeled to the cause of totally defeating Japan.

    At one point, driven to their last holdout on Bataan, the prime minister of the Philippines offers the plan of surrendering to the Japanese and setting up the country as a neutral player. Roosevelt surprises some of those around him with his terse dismissal of such an idea saying, in effect, “We will free the Philippines, but until then they will suffer as an occupied country.” Some of FDR’s closest aids were surprised by both his ruthlessness and resolve.

    FDR was a Navy man and Pearl Harbor hit him hard. It’s possible that Japan could have, as they had done before, conquered territory and then sue for some kind of peace, perhaps giving up a few things here and there but consolidating an ever-widening empire. That’s what they had done after the war with Russia.

    The gains made by the Japanese after Pearl Harbor were stunning in their ease. The British and American forces folded like a cheap tent. Morale was less than poor. The Japanese had wondered if it was possible to run a war like a railroad time-table (such was their level of detail). They were surprised to find that they not only could but they were months ahead of schedule with trivial losses. They gained the huge resources of Malaya and Java among other new conquests.

    Yamamoto again came up with a plan. He wanted to attack Midway in order to destroy the American carriers. We know how that turned out. But what they could have done, and did attempt to do to some extent, was to further threaten the supply lines between Australia and the U.S. particularly by taking New Caledonia if not Australia herself. The problem with an assault on Australia — or anywhere else — was the that Japanese army was unwilling to give the troops for it. They were holding them in and around China in order for a possible second front against Russia.

    Japan had moved so far, so fast, that they didn’t actually have a plan what to do next. Yamamoto initially favored making some kind of peace (which surely Roosevelt would have rejected) and consolidating gains. This idea not being acceptable (the zeal of conquest still hot), he flips and suggests hitting Midway — a plan that few were in favor of because it offered no significant gain. Even if they took it, holding it with such long supply line would be costly and just not worth the effort. And even if the Americans held it, it was easy enough to circumvent the 600 mile radius that Midway’s planes could cover.

    I’m reading this and it’s amazing how quickly Japan turned a stunning victory into defeat. Part of this, as the author notes, is that an air of invincibility had set in. And the propaganda was so heavy, there was the danger of losing track of reality. Yamamoto, on the other hand, had correctly predicted that the war would go easy for Japan for a year and a half or so and then the industrial might of the Allies (ten times that of Japan) would cause them to lose a war of attrition. He, more than anyone, had his head in reality.

    And yet one wonders what would have happened had Japan consolidated what it had gained (which was considerable). Instead of losing several top-line carriers at Midway, they might have been cranking them out given the resources they had recently acquired, and created (as they were doing, but to a larger extent) a near impregnable line of interconnected airfields among the islands. Midway itself showed just how difficult it was for carriers to take on other carriers if those other carriers also had land-based aircraft to deal with. That was another one of the reasons the assault on Midway was considered a bad idea.

    It’s conceivable if Japan had dug in and produced an even more formidable carrier and air force, the United States might have had little choice politically than to come to a negotiated peace. They made the Allies pay dearly for every island they took in the Island-hopping campaign. But had they simply moved troops from China early and consolidated current gains, who knows?

    • Timothy Lane says:

      The Japanese came to call their increasing overconfidence in mid-1942 “victory disease”. Coral Sea should have been a good corrective (it was fairly close to a draw tactically, and strategically a failure because the Port Moresby expedition turned back after the sinking of the Shoho). An important aspect is that the Japanese, like the Germans, tended to be arrogantly convinced that no one could be reading their codes. (World War II was a very racist war on all sides.)

      The best idea for the Japanese, if they wanted to continue to advance (and in war, it tends to be a choice between advance or retreat in the long run), was to move southward. New Hebrides and New Caledonia would have lengthened the supply lines to Australia (which would have made more of a difference if the Japanese were inclined to target them, as the Germans targeted the British supply lines), and added some resources as well (the nickel and chromium of New Caledonia).

      As for building carriers and planes, the Japanese did build a fair number, but they weren’t available until the final year of the war (and some weren’t even then), when they lacked decent pilots for them. This is why they used their remaining fleet carriers (successfully) as a decoy at Leyte Gulf, and also why they relied on the “divine wind” (kamikaze) from then on.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Timothy, by coincidence I was reading a review of a book on Midway by Craig Symonds: The Battle of Midway. The reviewer says:

        One of the key factors he identifies early on is the growing presence of the “victory disease” infecting the thinking of Japanese naval officers. An increasing assumption of victory was perhaps understandable, though, given the successes Japanese forces enjoyed at the start of the war. Much of this success was the consequence of the quality of Japanese equipment, as well as the demanding levels of training and previous combat experience of Japanese forces. Yet these advantages would prove to be temporary the longer the war wore on, as they were products of a system ill capable of replacing losses at the pace necessary. In the short term, though, Japan went from triumph to triumph, conquering southeast Asia and dominating Allied forces in the naval battles waged.

        Where I last left on in “Pacific Crucible” it mentions the fatigue — on both men and materiel — that was setting in and that would be a factor for the rest of the war. This was first brought up in regards to a carrier group, which had already sailed some 50,000 miles or so since the first offensive and was heading for overhaul, that was ordered back to cover the home island when someone spotted the Doolittle raiders.

        I’m going to name-drop some here. My father was highly involved in trying to create a museum for the USS Hornet (at least its surviving namesake, CV12). That museum was finally established in Alameda, CA. In the midst of that, he had corresponded with General Doolittle at least once — a man who at the time was refusing most contacts. He was a bit of a recluse, I guess. But I believe he lent his name to the project and helped in the ways that he could.

        I was able to meet some WWII notables, including the 4-star Admiral James Russell. He definitely fit the Nimitz mold — soft-spoken. Not the kind of prototypical heroic personality of, say, Bull Halsey. The book also highlights a name that is certainly not on the tip of my tongue, and that is Admiral King who was Nimitz’s boss. Nimitz-King-Halsey-Spruance-Fletcher…there certainly was a short list of some very important names in the Navy.

        Toll paints an interesting picture of Halsey in “Pacific Crucible.” The press didn’t know what to make of Nimitz. He was certainly not newspaper-genic. He wasn’t the kind of ass-kicking, hard-talking admiral that made good headlines, especially in a time when the nation was looking for some John Wayne-style payback. But they found Halsey and he became a media star. Someone gave him the name “Bull” Halsey. And I think it was on the first offensive measure after Pearl Harbor where they hit a few Jap island installations that the “Haul ass with Halsey” slogan was born.

        I find the book good in the sense of tone. It’s not of the smarty-pants “getting behind the myth” baloney which gets tiring. It just paints a picture of what happened, at least according to the details that the author selects.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Heavy fighting leads to attrition, which is a major problem for those relying on quality over quantity. Frederick the Great faced the same problem with his Prussian infantry during the Seven Years War.

          I would at least add Kinkaid to the list of important US admirals of World War II, and possibly Turner (who helped create Pearl Harbor, but when given another chance — unlike Kimmel and Short — did well after Guadalcanal in amphibious operations). Note that Fletcher didn’t serve in combat after 1942. Too many carriers had been sunk under him, and his flight at Guadalcanal didn’t help at all.

          Note that Halsey really didn’t like being called “Bull” (his friends called him Bill), just as Joe Hooker didn’t like being called “Fighting Joe”.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            Turner seems a good choice.

            I’m just up the point in the book now where the code-breaking team based in Hawaii has convinced Admiral Nimitz that “AH” is Midway. The die is cast. Three American carriers (and not much else) against about half of the entire Japanese navy, including four front-line carriers.

            The story about the battle of the Coral Sea was interesting. I’d never read this much detail about it before. We lost the Lexington and they lost a smaller escort carrier…and a lot of planes and experienced airmen.

            Despite over-confidence and “victory disease,” the Japanese cancel their landings on Port Moresby (which, after the carrier engagements, would have been unopposed). At best they would have had to face land-based bombers from Australia. But such bombers had proven ineffective previously. No solid explanation is given for why the landing forces didn’t turn around and come back (after initially turning around when it was learned there was an American carrier in the area). Perhaps no one really knows.

            The author says the conventional wisdom is generally sound. For the Japanese it was a tactical victory. We lost a front-line carrier and they lost a small one. For the Allies it was considered a strategic victory because two of the Japanese carriers had to return for repairs and would not be at Midway. No future landings would ever be attempted on Port Moresby nor would Australia ever be threatened again. The author goes on to state that although this conventional wisdom is sound, because the battle of Midway happened only a month later, one could see this also as a tactical victor (the two battles sort of becoming one larger battle) for the Allies as well because Japan was denied use of the two carriers at Midway.

            Yamamoto continues to be revealed as a somewhat bizarre character. The man who seems to have the most realistic view of the strategic situation seems to be the one most caught up in the air of invulnerability. While planning for the attack on Midway, Yamamoto has some kind of a big meeting on his flagship with all the brass…more admirals and vice admirals and other commanders then perhaps had ever met before. There is so much brass that there isn’t room at the main table for even vice admirals.

            Anyway, along with planning and conferences they also play a tabletop war game of the Midway attack, running through various scenarios and letting different people play one side or another. One Japanese officer plays the American carriers appearing in the northeast at the flank of the carriers who attacking Midway from the northwest (as is the Japanese plan) and scores devastating hits. This is immediately ruled outside the bounds of the games and implausible because the Americans wouldn’t know they were there until Midway was attacked. More than one war game scenario that turned out bad for the Japanese was simply dismissed.

            • Timothy Lane says:

              Zuikaku wasn’t hit at Coral Sea, but it lost so many planes that it was kept out of Midway, being reactivated with no crews a week later. The 3 US carriers at Midway averaged more planes than the 4 Japanese carriers, and were better supported by AA fire (especially the light AA cruiser Atlanta), so there was a lot less difference in effective strength than people think (unless the Japanese could force a surface attack, which Yamamoto tried to do after the carriers were sunk, but Spruance very carefully avoided).

              After the Japanese diplomats (including Admiral Nomura) returned to Japan in 1942 (a trade of non-combatants that, as it happened, included Elizabeth’s father, a missionary in Japan, and should have included Iva Toguri), they were asked to give their estimation of the future of the Pacific fighting. The results were a lot closer to what happened than to what the IJN brass wanted to hear.

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                Zuikaku wasn’t hit at Coral Sea, but it lost so many planes that it was kept out of Midway

                Thanks for the correction. And reading the history of the ship at this Wiki page, it’s interesting to find out that it was the last surviving carrier of the six that attacked Pearl Harbor. It meted out more than its share of punishment to Allied forces, finally being sunk in one of the battles of Leyte Gulf.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                Reading that link, I was surprised to see that Shokaku and Zuikaku took part in the Indian Ocean raid. Otherwise, it matches what I already knew about the ship from my own extensive reading about the Pacific war (as distinct from The Great Pacific War by Hector Bywater, which I’ve also read).

  10. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I finished this book last night. Again, I’d put a strong “recommend” on this one. It reads very well. It’s not as shallow as an overview and not as gaud-awful boring as many histories that deluge us with details. It’s more than a casual read and less than an intense study. For me, it’s perfect. It gives a good overview.

    It’s 640 pages, but if anything it could have been longer. When talking about the crucial aspect of code breaking, there is bare mention made of some of the work done called Navaho code talking. We heard about some of the ways that we were cracking the Japanese code. But what were we doing to keep our transmissions secret? Just a word or two about how we were using encrypted Navaho words would have taken but a couple paragraphs and been entirely relevant and interesting. Navaho, not being a language the Japanese knew anything about — or perhaps even knew existed — was a stroke of genius.

    The tone in the book is certainly not politically correct. The Japanese are not portrayed as victims of American Imperialism. This is not an annoying book to read, which is a remarkable fact unto itself.

    And I came away with a very low opinion of Yamamoto. Boy, what a personal scuzzball in a lot of ways. He openly cheated on his wife with Geishas (had a string of them). But beyond that, perhaps he reminds me a bit of MacArthur (and I’m not sure how the hell that guy ever got promoted to general). He seemed more the image of daring and bravado than a particularly useful military mind. Had the Japanese not openly provoked, insulted, and shocked the Americans by bombing Pearl Harbor, who knows if America would have not just written off the Philippines? Who you fight for the Philippines? Or Java? Or Malaya? It is apparent from the book that although the Dutch were an exception (giving a tenacious defense), the British soldiers couldn’t seem to come up with a reason to fight, at least in the early going.

    And then you have Midway, a totally useless gesture, coming and going. As several Admirals pointed out to Yamamoto, even if the U.S. Navy conceded Midway — simply abandoned the island — it would be of little use to the Japanese and be more of a burden. Yes, the point was to draw the American carriers into a fight, but the author states that many of the top Admirals thought the planning for the Midway campaign was rushed and far too complicated. And some of it had little to do with strategy and much to do with a “make work” program for the battleships that, for all intents and purposes, had little to do.

    One wonders what the war would have been like without Yamamoto. I think we would have had a harder time of it. Politically it would have been much easier to cede the fait accompli of Japanese gains. After all, they had been fighting in China and Manchuria for quite a while. They had Korea. They indeed did have an established empire. Would America go to war over a few god-forsaken islands in southeast Asia?

    Even then, it’s difficult to believe the Americans won at Midway. All of the planes of one of the ships (Hornet?) flied way too far north and never dropped a bomb in anger. The torpedoes bombers used by all the carriers were known ahead of time to be nearly useless. They were slow, had no fighter escort, and were sitting ducks for the Zeros. As luck would have it (and it probably was indeed luck), the dive bombers (two separate uncoordinated groups) arrived at the same time over the Jap carriers while the Zeros were at sea level having engaged the torpedo bombers, so they had a free run. But, Jesus, even then many of the early bombs missed. A quick-thinking (such people seemed to be few and far between) airman canceled his run one of the Jap support ships (because there had been more than enough dive bombers allocated for the one or two carriers in question) and switched to the carriers as a target.

    We were a bunch of hacks who got lucky. The Japanese airmen, although over-worked and exhausted, were professional in the way they went about forming up as groups after launching from the carriers. We were a relative unorganized mob. We eventually came up with solutions for fighting the Zeros — and had some good planes early, just not many of them or didn’t know best how to use them — the airmen of the Zeros were expert fighters…while they lasted. What we had was better intelligence and the willingness to use it and to take losses. And having radar was a help as well.

    And while reading this I wondered how the movie, “Midway,” matched up with the book. Well, I have little doubt that we would have done better if Charlton Heston was on the scene. Mostly I think it’s a fair enough match, although nowhere in the book does it mention that the Japanese were surprised to see three carriers at Midway, which was something central to the theme of the movie. I don’t know what the reality was. They certainly must have been surprised to see one of the carriers there (I forget which) for Nimitz had told the commander in a eyes-only message to make sure that he was spotted by the Japanese while in and around the Coral Sea and then to hightail it back to Pearl for the upcoming operation at Midway.

    In the movie, the impression is given that Robert Mitchum (Bull Halsey) has picked up some kind of tropical skin disease. In matter of fact, at least according to this book, it was a rash caused by stress. It’s perhaps easy to forget that beyond the bravado lurks a human being with the kinds of enormous responsibilities you and I can never imagine. Perhaps the key to America’s victory in both wars was not just our industrial capacity but that we had good leaders. Halsey was a great leader and it was just his bad luck to be human. He missed the battle of Midway.

    Anyway, I’m looking forward to re-watching “Midway” in the near future.

    Another thing I found interesting (but it shouldn’t be surprising) is that even in the midst of a life-or-death struggle, there are always petty, small-minded, bureaucratic, self-serving men in the military. The guy in Hawaii whose team is almost entirely responsible for cracking the Japanese code the led to the victory at Midway (and success at the Coral Sea) is not a household name…nor, despite being backed by Nimitz, was he decorated. But the sleaze-bag pair of navel officer brothers who ran, or had ties to, the code-breaking unit in Washington (which, according to the author, was mostly clueless) took credit for cracking the code and made life (and promotions options) hard for the true hero, Captain Joseph Rochefort. They apparently couldn’t bare that he was right and they were wrong. But apparently Rochefort kept a good attitude about it and it was noted in the book that he said he didn’t do what he did for career advancement…in fact, he very much would rather have been aboard a ship but that each was required to do what he was best suited to do. Code breaking was his thing.

    Another made-for-Hollywood moment in the movie is where Henry Fonda (playing Nimitz) says “But I want that fourth carrier,” as if after getting the first three, there was the option to withdraw. Well, I don’t know. Maybe so. But the book paints the picture that the Hiryu, the last untouched Jap carrier, simply put its planes in the air and attacked while the Americans were still more or less engaged with the other carriers or retrieving their planes.

    And that’s another interesting aspect. Apparently nobody really has an absolutely clear picture of what when on. The story is put together by bits and pieces. And personal recollections might be as dubious as the many false reconnaissance sitings that were typical during the war. In fact, one slightly comical moment was when the known aspect of exaggerating sited target was discussed. Reconnaissance crews typically 0ver-estimated the size and importance of the ships they spotted. Destroyers became cruisers. Cruisers became battleships, etc.

    And although hindsight is 20-20, the author I think does a good job of assessing blame. Should Naguma have drastically and immediately changed to carrier-assault mode rather than weapon-up for another attack on Midway atoll after one of his scouts said he spotted an American carrier? The author recounts the many missed opportunities and wild goose chaises the Japanese (and the Americans as well) had wasted time and resources on. In the book, it was routine for both sides to spot submarines in the water by the dozen. Getting good intelligence was a real problem and the author made a good case that it’s very difficult to rely simply on a first unsubstantiated report.

    Another interesting problem for the U.S. Navy, at least early-on, was that everyone wanted to bomb the biggest targets, so many other targets went unmolested. You read this book and you wonder if these airmen and commanders had done much practice or put much thought into any of this. It was pretty rough at times. But I think the theme of this book suggests (but does not go into any detail) that the Japanese were are their sharpest at Pearl Harbor and degraded from there, while for the Americans it was the opposite. We got better and better.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      We were a bunch of hacks who got lucky. The Japanese airmen, although over-worked and exhausted, were professional in the way they went about forming up as groups after launching from the carriers. We were a relative unorganized mob.

      As you know, the founding fathers were strongly against a standing army in times of peace. This tradition was adhered to throughout our history until after WWII. Although there was a significant buildup of the military for our entry into WWI, the reduction of military strength afterwards was fast and rather pronounced.

      Japan and Germany had been training for war years before the actual war started. And while FDR may have foreseen the coming war, the US wasn’t really well prepared for it. But once it did come, the machine started rolling.

      Numbers of service members 1939

      Army/ Navy/ Marines/ Total
      189,839/ 125,202/ 19,432/ 334,473


      8,267,958/ 3,380,817/ 474,680/ 12,123,445

      These nos. are from the National WWII in New Orleans.

      When you go from such small numbers to such large numbers, it is not surprising that at the start we were not terribly good at war. But as time went on and we we gained experience the USA turned out some great fighting men. Given the disparity between the 1929 and 1945 numbers involved, I would not be surprised if the greatest warriors were not even in military service prior to the war.

      I also think it important to point out that modern warfare is, to a large degree, a war of logistics. This is something America does better than any other military in history. The whole battle in the Pacific was a miracle of logistics.

      But sometimes, a military can become complacent and too reliant on superior logistics. And forget that in the end, victory comes down to application of brute force.

      I think the Vietnam War was somewhat plagued by such great logistics. The top brass seemed to fool themselves into believing logistical superiority would win it for us.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Interesting numbers. And the numbers of aircraft, ships, tanks, etc., that were being produced was considerable. The book mentioned that although Germany was able to double its production and Japan triple it, the American war production increased by a factor of 25. Near the end of the war, we had more ships than the Japs had planes.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          There is a scene in the movie, “A Bridge Too Far” in which Maximilian Schell looks up at a sky full of C 47s and says something like, “if only I had a quarter of that amount of equipment at my disposal, I could …..” the implication being that there was a big shortage of material for the Germans and the Allies, seemingly, had an unlimited supply of everything.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      If you want a battle in which no one knows exactly what happened (including the participants), look at the First Naval Battle of Guadalcanal in November 1942. The Japanese sent the battlecruisers Hiei and Kirishima with a bunch of destroyers to bombard Henderson Field, and an inexperienced US admiral (Daniel Callaghan) intercepted with 5 cruisers and 8 destroyers. It was a night action, with such oddities as a Japanese battlecruiser captain wounded by machine-gun fire from a destroyer. Callaghan was killed on the bridge of the San Francisco, and his more experienced second-in-command, Norman Scott (who won at Cape Esperance, but was junior to Callaghan), was killed on the bridge of Atlanta (possibly by shells from San Francisco). When it was over, the commander of the light cruiser Helena was in charge of the US force as senior surviving commander. (It was in the aftermath of the battle that a Japanese submarine sank the light AA cruiser Juneau, leading to the deaths of the 5 Sullivan brothers.)

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      And I came away with a very low opinion of Yamamoto. Boy, what a personal scuzzball in a lot of ways. He openly cheated on his wife with Geishas (had a string of them)

      I hate to let you know, but such behavior was very common among Japanese men. Wives were for have children and raising families. Geishas were for entertainment.
      Yamamoto would have been seen to be really strange had he not gone out with colleagues getting sloshed and chasing women. This was one way one built camaraderie among one’s co-workers.

  11. Timothy Lane says:

    I’m not sure if the Navaho code talkers were active at this stage. When we visited the Nimitz museum they had an exhibit on the subject. They also had one on the sole survivor of Torpedo 8, who had a perfect view of the destruction of Kaga, Akagi, and Soryu, and was sent back to Pearl Harbor — giving Nimitz his first report on the battle.

    Incidentally, I’ve read that the Axis nations expected the Americans to use Indian communicators as they did — but they expected them to be Sioux, not Navaho.

    Spruance was the commander of Halsey’s cruiser screen, and Halsey recommended him for the command of Enterprise and Hornet (Fletcher was the overall commander, operating from Yorktown). The reason the Japanese were surprised by 3 carriers was no doubt that they expected Yorktown to be stuck back in Pearl Harbor being repaired.

    Rochefort did appear in Midway, though I don’t recall if they named him. The reason the top intelligence people didn’t like him was that they thought the target was someplace other than Midway, and didn’t like being proven wrong. Nimitz was too strong a target, so they made Rochefort the scapegoat for their embarrassment. Military bureaucrats are no better than any other kind.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      Military bureaucrats are no better than any other kind.

      I have long shared that view. And one must never forget that the military is a huge bureaucracy.

      Sir John Harvey-John, a previous chairman of ICI, served in the Royal navy from the late 1930’s till the mid or late 1950’s. He made perfectly clear how vicious the infighting was for promotion and recognition. He said company politics was softball compared to Naval politics. He thought that the disappointment and resentment which could arise from not receiving a choice promotion was handled much better in business than in the Royal Navy as, in business, money could be used to assuage the pain.

      That reminded my of the remark attributed to Woodrow Wilson, which went something like, “why are the politics in academia so vicious? Because the rewards are so small.”

  12. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Here’s a book I don’t recommend reading going by the reviews. It sounds like it’s from a smarty-pants revisionist who wants to cut through all the “myths” even if no one has ever heard of that myth.

    But one review says something I found interesting:

    …the Japanese lost sight of the principle of the Objective–were they there to defeat the American fleet or invade Midway and the Aleutians, or both? The Japanese strategy was a hodgepodge of conflicting objectives, and indeed the conflict as to whether they should strike Midway or turn to engage the American fleet that seemed to lurk on their flank plagued the Japanese fleet at a decisive moment.

    It was also noted that the Navy moved heaven and earth to get the Yorktown back into operation while the Japanese took out of service one of their lightly damaged carriers.

    And the above is a good point: If the point was to lure the American carriers into battle and destroy them, then it was obvious that they should have stopped any operations pointed toward Midway and gone right after the carriers upon first report, even if that report was sketchy. Furthermore, any thrust toward Midway should have been played exactly as the feint in the Aleutians: to draw the Americans out. Instead, it seems as the reviewer said that the Japanese objectives were blurred while the American objectives were crystal clear.

    Also of general note from reading the reviews, it was significant that the U.S. Carriers were much better built, had better fire-control systems and training, and better anti-aircraft fire. The Yorktown was hit significantly in two different Jap attacks and still lived on. It took a Jap sub to finish it off later or else it would have been towed back to Pearl and overhauled.

    Also of interest is that after the battle, the Japanese high command hid the results from the public, instead declaring victory. The injured crew members from the strike force were isolated in hospitals and then later dispersed to far-flung regions where most were killed in action. The purpose was to keep the secret of their defeat secret.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      This was indeed a problem at Midway, and the USN would face the same sort of concerns later on, at the Philippine Sea and Leyte Gulf. Spruance was cautious after repelling the Japanese air attacks in the former (which suffered losses on a par with the later kamikaze attacks) because he saw his duty as protecting the landing force before destroying the Combined Fleet — and there was always the possibility of finding Japanese forces attacking Saipan behind him if he pursued all out. Halsey chose the opposite course, which is why the Japanese came so close to hitting the amphibious forces with their main surface fleet (and why Halsey and Kinkaid got along so badly after that battle).

      Halsey reputedly once wished that he and Spruance had traded places in the two battles. But even that wasn’t exactly right, because the Japanese air losses at the Philippine Sea rendered their carriers effectively useless — except as decoys for Halsey.

  13. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Further reading has led me to believe that the way to sum this up was the Spruance’s aggressiveness saved the day. Launching first is everything in regards to carrier warfare. Despite the lame torpedo bombers, they tied up the Japanese. When under attack, it’s generally impossible to be rearming and launching planes because the ship needs to make rapid (for a carrier) turns which would just slosh everything around. At least that’s what I got out of it.

    Fletcher is often criticized for launching only half his force, keeping half in reserve, but it is said that his attacks were much better coordinated, the various wings appearing over the targets at the same time.

    The book also describes the horrendously hot conditions on board a carrier in the tropical Pacific. Complaining men would sometimes be ushered down to the engine room which often was 120 degrees or more. That made the 100 degrees topside seem reasonable.

    And the book gets into some of the grizzly details of casualties aboard a carrier and the horrendous job of fighting the fires. Doesn’t sound like a lot of fun.

    I’m now reading the free Kindle sample of Challenge for the Pacific: Guadalcanal: The Turning Point of the War. This may be more WWII than I want to read, but so far it’s at least mediocre.

    I watched the move, “Midway,” last night. It seems pretty close to what happened with a few dramatic liberties being taken. I don’t think Admiral Nimitz said “But I want that fourth carrier.”

    The best actor on the Japanese side is the guy who plays Vice Admiral Nagumo (James Shigeta). And I always thought the voice they must have dubbed in for Toshirô Mifune was pretty stupid. But if that’s his real voice, then I apologize.

    Heston is great as Captain Garth. And they plug in that PC sideline of his son falling in love with the interned Japanese girl. This would have played better if they would have found a real actor to play the role of Tom Garth. Edward Albert just doesn’t cut it for me.

    Henry Fonda is great as Nimitz. Glenn Ford is superb as Spruance. And I’ve read that Robert Webber (a fine actor) was perfect as Rear Admiral Fletcher, showing just a bit of weakness and indecisiveness.

    The movie is full of stars, or those whose names would be well-know later: James Coburn. Robert Wagner. Robert Mitchum. Cliff Robertson. Hal Holbrook. Christopher George. Kevin Dobson. Erik Estrada. Tom Selleck (although I couldn’t spot him). Dabney Coleman. Monte Markham. Ed Nelson. All in all, a very good movie. And a great and memorable soundtrack by (who else?) John Williams.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Note that Nagumo in the movie, as they slaughter the torpedo planes, points out that nevertheless they were being prevented from preparing their next strike. He and Yamaguchi (the lower-ranked admiral who commanded Hiryu and Soryu, with the former his flagship) both come off well. Joseph Major once said that Captain Garth’s crash was based on a real incident in the battle.

  14. Timothy Lane says:

    I’m over half way through the book now, and it has been very interesting. I like reading a lot of the extra details about various events (starting with the Pearl Harbor raid), including details about carrier operations. (The description of the Marshalls raid led me to check what Toll had to say about the Thach weave.) This also includes the remarkable story of the Nitta Maru, the fishing sampan used as a picket boat that discovered the Doolittle raid task force, and endured a remarkable amount of shooting before finally sinking (and they even shot down an American dive bomber).

    Also of interest was the early appearance of a female radio propagandist from Tokyo, mocking American sailors during the Java Sea operations. Toll doesn’t say if this had anything to do with the woman/women later called Tokyo Rose by American listeners, but it was certainly long before Iva Toguri would have been involved.

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